Every January, film buffs descend on Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival, braving subzero temperatures for a sneak peak at indie movies that very likely will never be shown in a theater near you.
It's a paradox that filmmakers, critics and festival organizers are well aware of. The buzz is big "on the mountain," as they call it, but in recent years many of the festival's top-prize winners movies like We Live in Public, Padre Nuestro and Trouble the Water have gone on to fade quietly in a handful of theaters.
So Sundance is trying to position itself not just as a must-attend event for the industry but also as a must-see for film fans, wherever they live. "We are looking at what filmmakers need and more and more, that means alternative distribution," says Sundance director John Cooper. "I think the future will be about a new paradigm where you capitalize on the heat of the festival, when the world is looking at these films, and launch them into immediate distribution."
To experience this year's festival (Jan. 21-31) remotely, try the Sundance iPhone app, which will feature short films from past festivals and video reports from this year's fest, or follow twitter.com/sundancefest, where celebrity tweeters like Joan Rivers and David Hyde Pierce will be guiding the conversation. You can also watch filmmaker interviews on youtube.com/sff, or go to sundance.org/festival, where daily video reports will be posted alongside live streaming events.
At home, use the Sundance Selects video-on-demand channel to watch three premieres (The Shock Doctrine, Daddy Longlegs, 7 Days) from the comfort of your living room. If you live in one of eight selected cities outside Utah (from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Nashville to San Francisco), you can try to snag a ticket for a Jan. 28 Sundance screening as festival filmmakers travel with their official selections to theaters across the country.
Will all this access diminish the festival's aura of exclusivity? Cooper and company don't seem concerned. For 2010, the Sundance mantra might as well be, The more eyeballs, the better.